If you've been involved in a car accident, you may have a legal claim against the person responsible. Read on to learn about car accident lawsuit basics, including the processes involved, theories of liability, and more.
Seeking Medical Treatment and Collecting Medical Records/Bills
After a car accident, seeking medical treatment should be your first priority. Not only is this crucial for your health, but it also establishes a record of your injuries, which can be a deciding factor in a personal injury lawsuit.
Collecting your medical records and bills is one of the most important parts of the lawsuit process. These documents show:
- Evidence of the injuries you sustained
- The treatment you received
- The cost of that treatment
They can substantiate your claim for medical expenses, one of the key components of economic damages in a car accident lawsuit.
Dealing With Insurance
Dealing with insurance companies is another critical part of the car accident lawsuit process. After the accident, you should report it to your insurance company as soon as possible. You'll likely need to provide them with a copy of the police report, which details the circumstances of the accident.
If the other party was at fault, you may need to file an insurance claim with their insurer. This process can be contentious, as insurance companies often try to minimize payouts.
Auto accidents are a leading cause of injury in the U.S. Many of these injuries or deaths result in car accident lawsuits.
Before filing a car accident lawsuit, there is typically an early opportunity to settle the claim. You or your attorney will communicate with the responsible party's insurer, who might offer to settle the personal injury claim.
If the settlement offer seems fair and appropriate, you can agree to the insurer's terms and receive a payment in return for your agreement not to sue. When an agreement cannot be reached, a personal injury lawsuit is filed.
Interrogatories and Depositions
Interrogatories and depositions are key elements of the discovery process in personal injury lawsuits. They are tools to gather information about a car accident.
Interrogatories are written questions that one party in a lawsuit sends to the other. They help gather information about the accident, the injuries, the insurance policy information, and any other relevant details. The party receiving the interrogatories must answer them in writing, under oath.
Depositions are oral questions asked in person, usually in a lawyer's office. The person deposed (the deponent) must answer the questions under oath. A court reporter records their responses. Depositions can help gather information from parties involved in the accident, witnesses, and even medical providers.
In states that have "no-fault insurance" laws, there is a reduced chance of litigation. In these states, your own insurer must pay for your personal injuries up to the policy limit unless the motor vehicle accident involved:
- Criminal behavior on your part
If your insurer refuses to pay, you may have to sue them for acting in bad faith. But by providing a streamlined method to receive compensation and eliminating arguments about fault, no-fault insurance does reduce the number of car accident lawsuits.
The no-fault process sets thresholds beyond which a lawsuit is still permitted. There are two kinds of thresholds set by states:
- Monetary Threshold States — Only accidents where medical expenses pass a specified threshold can proceed to a lawsuit.
- Verbal Threshold States — Only accidents that result in specified categories of serious injuries can proceed to a lawsuit. These can include wrongful death, catastrophic injuries, or injuries that cause permanent disfigurement or disability.
Some states have both a monetary and a verbal threshold that needs to be met before filing a lawsuit.
In states where no-fault laws are inapplicable or where thresholds have been met, car accident cases are almost always based upon a theory of negligence. Negligence occurs when a person who owes a duty of care to another person acts in a careless manner, and their actions, or failure to act, result in an injury to someone else.
All drivers have a duty to follow the rules of the road, drive at a reasonable speed, keep their cars in good repair, and pay attention to their surroundings. Driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs and violating rules of the road may raise a presumption of negligence in personal injury cases.
Contributory and Comparative Negligence
Some states apply theories of negligence that can reduce or eliminate the driver's responsibility for injuries where the injured person's actions were also negligent. These are referred to as contributory and comparative negligence.
- Contributory Negligence — This may eliminate driver liability altogether, where the victim's own negligence contributed to the car accident.
- Comparative Negligence — This may reduce the at-fault driver's liability where the victim's negligence contributed to the car accident.
Comparative negligence is further divided into two categories:
- Pure Contributory Negligence — Permits the injured party to recover some compensation for their damages despite their own negligence, even when they were more at fault than the other driver.
- Modified Comparative Negligence — Limits car accident injury victims' recovery where their fault exceeds a particular degree of responsibility. In some states, the victim cannot recover where they are more than 50% responsible.
Types of Compensation
A car accident lawsuit may result in a variety of different claims for compensation. These claims may include damages relating to:
If a settlement cannot be reached, your car accident lawsuit may proceed to a jury trial. During the trial, both sides will present their case, including evidence such as:
- Medical records
- Testimony from witnesses or experts
The jury will then decide who was at fault in the accident and how much compensation the prevailing party should receive. This can include both economic damages (such as medical expenses and lost wages) and non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering).
Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit? Ensure a Better Outcome With Legal Advice From a Personal Injury Attorney
Car accident lawsuits tend to involve a series of interactions and settlement negotiations with insurance adjusters even before a lawsuit takes place. Insurance companies are certain to have legal representation — sometimes a whole team of lawyers. If you're considering a civil lawsuit over a car accident, you should contact a local car accident lawyer today.
Many personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. You won't have to pay anything upfront. You'll only pay legal fees if your case is successful and you receive compensation.
Remember, there is a statute of limitations on car accident cases. The time you have to seek a fair settlement is limited. Don't wait to speak with a car accident attorney about holding the at-fault party accountable for your medical care.